The Laramie Project is a gripping docudrama play about the murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming who was kidnapped, beaten and left hanging on a fence in a frigid field. Six days later, he died in a bed at Poudre Valley Hospital. His slaying was deemed a hate crime because Shepard was gay.
The Springs Ensemble Theatre (SET) is taking on this production with eight ensemble members. They are working to tell Shepard’s story as we near the 21st anniversary of his death when he’ll have been dead for as long as he was alive.
The show is incredibly poignant, bringing several audience members to tears as cast members recited the words of the Laramie citizens. Each actor played several parts, working together to tell the story of a community.
Reggie Fluty (Kaitlin Montalvo), one of the first responders, was exposed to HIV while trying to help Shepard. Her gloves ripped while she tried to find his airway. She struggled for weeks afterward, taking medications to prevent the onset of the disease with the support of her mother, Marge Murray (Jenice Marshall).
Hans Mueh also shone on stage, playing several key characters, each of them well. His face was expressive and determined, and with each character he used his talents in new ways.
When Mueh dons a tie, he is Albany County Sheriff Rob Debree, who notes that the town motto is “live and let live.” When he exchanges that tie for a collar, he is the Rev. Roger Schmit, the Catholic priest who held one of the first vigils for Shepard. He wants to ensure that the Tectonic Theater Project does its best to “say it right, say it correct,” lest more violence and hatred are spread.
Carmina Paner delivered an equally striking performance. She plays Zubaida Ula, an Islamic feminist who is frustrated with the attitudes of her fellow Laramie residents. They can’t say that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in Laramie, she knows, because it did. Paner also plays Romaine Patterson, a close friend of Shepard’s who was moved to activism in the wake of the tragedy.
The play was not perfect, but as actors, the community members portrayed emotions worthy of any stage.
David Corder was excellent as the Unitarian minister Stephen Mead Johnson, who didn’t know how to react to the tragedy or whether locals should get involved at all. He unabashedly pointed out other ministers who failed to act as community leaders and expressed his own left-leaning beliefs.
But when Corder switched to play Moisés Kaufman, the Venezuelan playwright who founded the Laramie Project, his accent left quite a bit to be desired. In a very serious play, it was almost comical and completely shifted the tone. Corder does not have many occasions to take the stage as Kaufman, which was a benefit to the show as a whole.
Overall, the eight actors who took the stage at SET did an amazing job telling a difficult story and doing so correctly. It felt as if the people of Laramie were on stage, donning angel wings to shield funeral-goers against hate, and using their medical expertise to treat Shepard and one of his murderers in the same day. Most of all, they were there telling their story and explaining that “the whole thing ropes around hope.”
The Laramie Project runs at the Springs Ensemble Theatre through July 28.